Paddle and Potluck!

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Photo by Erik Baard

HarborLAB closed out our paddling season much later than expected, as mild air and water temperatures continued. We’d say “thanks to unusually warm air and water,” but even such a pleasant and localized anomaly brings to mind the global warming trend — and related ocean acidification and sea level rise — that threatens all coastal and marine ecosystems.

But all that said and considered, we were blessed with a terrific day of urban exploration. The outing also afforded us the opportunity to gather enough seaside goldenrod seeds for at least two classroom seedball making days, and do some phragmites scouting. We plan to cut down stands of this invasive reed to make boats in traditional Ethiopian, Bolivian, Greek, Iraqi, and Egyptian styles!

This outing was also a fundraiser for HarborLAB, arranged as a birthday present by LIC resident Maura Kehoe Collins for her husband, David. Their son, Zach, brought helpful muscle and knowledge of detritivores to the party. We were delighted to be joined by the Collins’ special guest, Curtis Cravens, author of Copper on the Creek. No less of a grit-and-brine maven than Newtown Creek Alliance historian Mitch Waxman (author of Newtown Creek for the Vulgarly Curious) is a huge fan of the book. Cravens worked for our neighbor across the creek, Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center, and now serves as Senior Advisor for Coastal Resiliency at New York City Office of the Mayor.

Our course took us to the mouth of the Newtown Creek to view the Manhattan skyline and then back Plank Road, where the Newtown Creek Alliance has placed an educational sign and planted native habitat with support from the NY-NJ Harbor & Estuary Program and New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission (NEIWPCC). The site was once the Queens side of a wooden bridge. Cravens pointed out the landings of a former Penny Bridge, which led from Brooklyn to Calvary Cemetery. More about that in Forgotten New York. We all admired the engineering marvels behind the construction of the new Kosciuszko Bridge.

At Plank Road we were delighted to encounter a fine artist at work! Painter Scott Williams was patient with our disruption, warmly sharing the stories behind his work. He’s made the Newtown Creek his occasional subject since 1992! HarborLAB Founder Erik Baard quickly envisioned a showing of photos and paintings by Waxman, Williams, Bernie Ente, and others called “Picture a Creek.” We’ll be exploring this educational opportunity over the winter.

Another future program inspired by the outing is our planned June 5 “Bunker Symposium.” One of the hottest restaurants on the creek was our walk-up from Plank Road, Bun-Ker Vietnamese. It happens that “bunker” is a local name for Menhaden fish, which has been dubbed “The Most Important Fish in the Sea” for its ecological services and commercial value. The creek is crammed with bunker each late spring and summer.

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Photo by Erik Baard

Our guests scooted off (with our great thanks!) to their next celebration, while we had ours! Despite the chill, our Thanksgiving Potluck was warm with joy. Thomas Dieter brought a delicious quinoa dish while EJ Lee made an amazing assortment of stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and other delicacies. David Pugh and Becky Chipkin contributed yummy pickled beats and crisp apples while Erik Baard and Danushi Fernando baked apple pie pockets. Diana Szatkowski rounded out the feast with the indispensable and scrumptious butternut squash with cranberries. It was all vegan, not only to be inclusive but because the United Nations Environment Programme found that “a substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products.”

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Photo by Erik Baard

We’d barely cleared the table when our cloudy day transformed into a golden dusk by the alchemy of atmospheric refraction. The wondrous beauty only deepened as purples and pinks ascended. The contrasting textures of cloud layers rode over each other like woodwinds and brass over strings, over percussion. What a glorious way to close out our 2015 paddling season!

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Photo by Erik Baard

 

“Estuary Escape” to a “Living Dock”

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HarborLAB’s outing with the Van Alen Institute visits the Newtown Creek Alliance’s “Living Dock.”

On November 8, HarborLAB was privileged to provide a Newtown Creek tour to the Van Alen Institute. Billed as an “Estuary Escape,” we also hope that the time afloat was a reminder that we live within a water wilderness that’s both marvelous and in need of better care.

We shared a bit of local lore and history gleaned from authors who are also our friends, Newtown Creek Alliance historian Mitch Waxman and founder of the Center for Algonquin Culture, Evan Pritchard. Other highlights of the trip, however, were glimpses of a green and blue future. That’s fitting for an organization like VAI, which started as Society of Beaux-Arts Architects but evolved into an advocate for design and architecture that serves public interests.

HarborLAB Founder and Executive Director Erik Baard walked participants through our GreenLaunch, a waterfront strip that we’ve cleaned and cleared for three years without machine aid, owing to soft ground, and planted with more than 30 native trees and bushes so far. We’re also cultivating goldenrod, pokeweed, and milkweed, which are important native food sources for birds and beneficial insects. Simultaneously we’re creating large amounts of fresh soil through composting. Coming soon will be more plantings, green structures, solar power, our larger dock (thanks to Pink Sparrow Scenic and in part a Harbor Estuary Program grant via Waterfront Alliance), and eco-educational installations.

We paddled out in two waves, totaling 24 participants. We discussed the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant and the ongoing combined sewer overflow problem, and the huge Sims Metal Management (a founding HarborLAB sponsor) recycling facility. Baard noted the presence of morning glories, which help remove lead from soils. The greenest stop on our tour was the “Living Dock,” an educational project of the Newtown Creek Alliance. The dock is fitted with modules growing spartina, our region’s salt marsh grass, a cornerstone of estuarine ecology. Other life then just showed up — sea lettuce, killifish, shrimp, and more! NCA Program Director Willis Elkins explained the project as providing both the immediate benefit of nature observations, and the broader message that we shouldn’t give up hope and turn away from blighted waterways — a phenomenon Baard coined “biodecathection.” Recovery is possible, and is slowly happening. The “Living Dock” helps render the data more visibly.

It was a beautiful and meaningful day, one that we’ll look back on with fondness and gratitude for a long, happy while.

Many thanks to volunteers Thomas Dieter, Diana Chang, Becky Chipkin, David Pugh for their help as safety escorts and to Patricia Erickson, Phillip Borbon, Scott Wolpow, and all others who helped ashore! We also thank VAI for its donation in lieu of a speaker’s honorarium for Erik Baard.

City of Water Day Memories

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Volunteer Co-Manager Caroline Walker takes two kids out in the embayment while the rest of their family shared another boat. Photo by Scott Sternbach.

HarborLAB was honored to serve at the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance‘s request as the public kayaking program at the Governors Island center of City of Water Day, the largest annual harbor festival in our region. We enjoyably and safely shared a very busy little dock with New York Outrigger and East River C.R.E.W. (Community Education and Recreation on the Water) rowers. We set 146 members of the public afloat within the protected Pier 101 embayment between 11am and 4pm, despite the happy interruptions of arriving groups of kayakers, stand-up paddle boarders, and canoeists, and a wildly popular and zany cardboard kayak race.

We couldn’t have achieved these good things for the community without the support of our sponsors and allies. At this event we were proud to fly sustainably produced banners that included both our logo  and those of TF Cornerstone, Con Ed, and the United Nations Federal Credit Union.

HarborLAB was represented by two dozen volunteers, students, and supporters. CUNY students, especially LaGuardia Community College, were especially helpful in our estuary and watershed education tent. They also documented the day’s attractions. Our dock was staffed throughout by Daisy Hope Benjamin, an emergency room nurse with child and adult life saving certifications, as an added level of safety. She was also just great company on the dock! The day’s on-water safety and event production, under which we served, was directed for MWA by Ray Fusco, whose professionalism and kindness made this hard work for public benefit a pleasure.

Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance officials described our program variously as “brilliant,” “great,” and “amazing.” Our success follows similar raves at the Clearwater Festival. Though this is our first season, our core volunteers have years of service on the harbor under their belts, or life vests. Founder Erik Baard has a special tie to City of Water Day — he started the Five Borough Harbor Ramble (the first event through which paddlers and rowers touched all boroughs), which MWA aided greatly (special thanks to Carter Craft!). When the MWA asked to adopt the Ramble as its fully-owned signature annual event, Erik joyfully agreed. Since then the MWA has rebranded the event using the title of its excellent documentary, and profoundly grown City of Water Day as no other organization could.

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Volunteer Co-Manager Danushi Fernando stepped down from the desk to communicate a message to the dock crew while new volunteer (met that day) and teacher Kamala Redd hams it up with her niece. 🙂

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The day started in Sunnyside, Queens, where our boats are temporarily stored at the private office of Community Board 2 Environmental Chair Dorothy Morehead. Our great innovation of the morning was to heat seal sustainably printed decals to our boats using a blowdryer. Thanks to a Harbor Estuary Program grant for City of Water Day, we rented a box truck to carry boats — we URGENTLY need a trailer (sponsor our purchase of this 16-boat trailer!) and often shuttle boats bit by bit in a HarborLAB Facilities Manager Pat Erickson’s van, but our volunteers had enough work ahead of them. A huge help came from NY Waterway, which sent a special East River Ferry to Hunters Point for HarborLAB to get boats, gear, and volunteers to Governors Island ahead of the crowds.

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Operation Manager EJ Lee on decal duty.

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ER Nurse Daisy Benjamin brings fantastic precision to her work.

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Facilities Manager Patricia Erickson with six of our ten Ocean Kayak Malibu 2 XL tandem sit-on-top kayaks.

HarborLAB’s morning crew of volunteers and supporters. Photo by Scott Sternbach.

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On the island, gear was transported to Pier 101 by Ray Fusco’s van. Volunteer Emanuel “Manny” Steier had a creative solution for moving the boats!

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Volunteer Zamira Kamal takes a quick, well-deserved break. Photo by Ana Espinal.

HarborLAB volunteers operated two tents, one of which we brought to the island aboard the ferry. The first held waivers and great safety and stewardship information from  the American Canoe Association (HarborLAB is a Paddle America Club). The second, red canopy was our estuary and watershed education desk. At that table we highlighted CUNY LaGuardia Community College research and provided literature from the Harbor Estuary Program, NY State DEC, NYC DEP, ACA, and other great environmental groups and agencies.

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Volunteer Co-Manager Danushi Fernando and Facilities Manager Patricia Erickson staff the HarborLAB waiver and American Canoe Association information table. Photo by Ana Espinal.

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Photo by Ana Espinal.

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Operations Manager EJ Lee at the education table. Photo by Ana Espinal.

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Teacher David Perrin flanked by EJ Lee and Vernon ShengWuey Ong at the education table.

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HarborLAB’s education table. Photo by Ana Espinal.

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Photo by Ana Espinal.

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Down on the ramp, dock, and water our volunteers had a blast despite the pressures of managing crowds and coordinating safe sharing of the embayment. It helped that NY Outrigger and East River C.R.E.W. are both friendly, community-spirited, and highly competent groups. Working shoulder-to-shoulder with them was a privilege.

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A beautiful East River C.R.E.W. boat captained by Mary Nell Hawk.

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Volunteers Omar Barrios, Daisy Benjamin, and Danushi Fernando sharing a laugh on the dock.

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Steve Sanford on safety patrol in the MetroBoat, HarborLAB Founder Erik Baard’s mass transit and estuary “brain child” with Folbot (http://folbot.wordpress.com/tag/metroboat/).

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HarborLAB Board Member Scott Sternbach, CUNY LaGuardia Community College photo director, on safety patrol in his own boat. Photo by Ana Espinal.

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Erik Baard managed kayak group arrivals during program hours to keep the dock from getting dangerously crowded. Here he holds HarborLAB boats out on the water while LIC Community Boathouse (also founded by Erik Baard), Yonkers Paddling and Rowing Club, and Sebago Canoe Club boats arrived in one flotilla.

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“Boat Hill” fills in as paddling groups arrive.

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CUNY students and HarborLAB volunteers George Blandino-Ripley and Ana Espinal.

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The go-go Greenpointers of the North Brooklyn Boat Club who impressed us all with determination and filled us with envy that they got to take a swim. Photo by Scott Sternbach.

The go-go Greenpointers of the North Brooklyn Boat Club who impressed us all with determination and filled us with envy that they got to take a swim. Photo by Scott Sternbach.

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Part of the afternoon HarborLAB crew. Yes, a bunch of us pulled double shifts!

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Even a hose shower was a blessing.

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Students and volunteers enjoyed exploring the island, which is rich in art. Photo by Daniel Cassady.

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At least half of us camped over on the island.

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Sunrise over Brooklyn. Time to go home.

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Daniel Cassady and the rest of the crew carried boats down for an early launch.

City of Water Day Grant!

Wonderful news!

We have received a grant for $500.00 for our participation at the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance’s harbor and water environment celebration:  City of Water Day.

Funds were generously provided by the New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary Program , the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission, and the  The Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance.

HarborLAB will provide the free public kayaking program on Governors Island for City of Water Day, and will be a resource for learning through our education tent thanks in great part to CUNY LaGuardia Community College. This generous grant makes those contributions much less of a strain on our new and growing organization. Administration of this grant is made possible by our 501(c)(3) fiscal conduit, Earth Day New York. We are very grateful to NY-NJ Harbor Estuary Program, the New England Water Pollution Control Commission, and the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance!